Everyone seems to be comparing Garden State to either Lost in Translation or The Graduate. The latter is inevitable as the main character deals with an overbearing father through a hazy daze. Heck, Simon & Garfunkel even make a showing in the soundtrack.
The latter is also apt. The dialogue seems torturously and thrillingly real. They seem to tell you that this is a conversation that could only happen here and in this way once. It’s not true that all dialogue aspires to this. There was a moment — the Dawson’s Creek/Cruel Intentions moment — when characters spoke as if they had been taken from a book, and this was good. Sometimes, the story is told directly through the dialogue, and this is good. But in both of these films, the dialogue is a conversation, it’s the give-and-take that seems so natural that it must be improvised, but so clean that it can’t be.
Both films also feel like a theater game, to some people at least, because they put the players in impossible positions and let them climb out of them by working through a scene. Some saw in Lost in Translation an implicit orientalism; that is, the film treated Tokyo as a stranger-than-true sort of backdrop of the exotic, and it played a role in the film by carrying along the characters, by seeming to remove them from their own volition. I found the depiction of Tokyo, while it might not have been the Tokyo of many Tokyoites, to be as good an example of seeing the city from a sojourner’s perspective as I have found, and the development of the city as a character was outstanding. This was the Tokyo that I first met and loved during a time when I was actively deciding what sort of a person I was.
Some of the critics of Garden State have suggested that it is strange for the sake of being strange. I didn’t find it that way at all. People are strange, at least the ones I know. I don’t know too many people who are “normal,” and the ones I do know freak me out. My own family is far stranger than either of the two in the film. One of the underlying themes of the movie seems to by that we should learn to see, and to love, that strangeness; that by trying to come home, we find that what makes a home is the flaws, the odd bits, and the surprises.
I also think that both Lost in Translation and this film do a good job of showing how people fall in love. It’s a hard thing to show, and yet in most of the scenes in the film, you have little difficulty in seeing it happen. Portman, whom I loved in movies like Leon and Beautiful Girls redeems herself in this movie by shaping a character that is believable and compelling, something I had thought impossible after Attack of the Clones. (I shudder to think what Revenge of the Sith will bring.)
The film is not flawless. Some of the scenes are somehow “off.” But for the most part, the entire cast is very strong, and the film itself comes together nicely. Go see it.